A single session of the Florida Legislature transformed a 2,000-year-old rule of common law into a license for vengeance.
A small snatch of ill-conceived legislation prompted the acquittal of George Zimmerman, killer of black teenager Trayvon Martin.
The Castle Doctrine (which declares a man’s home is his castle) protected people who used deadly force to protect their homes for more than 2,000 years. This unwritten law goes back to the Roman Republic in 500 B.C. The doctrine is an extension of the right to self-defense.
The “Castle” could be a peasant’s hut, an urban dweller’s condominium or apartment. The slain intruder could be a terrorist, hobo or one of the king’s men (e.g. an FBI agent).
The Castle Doctrine seemed to make sense, especially with the rule of self-defense planted firmly in American jurisprudence. But over the years, judges tinkered with the doctrine.
Most courts held that the defender had to make an effort to avoid harm. If you catch a burglar in your bedroom, the proper response is to rip down the stairs and bolt out the backdoor.
Other rulings favored the burglar. Some judges ruled that the front yard was not part of your house. Maybe the homeowner should plug the intruder before HE bolts.
Rumbling from the innards of a very powerful political organization (the National Rifle Association) caught the attention of its affiliates. A coordinated campaign to radically alter the Castle Doctrine succeeded. Legislators introduced Stand Your Ground legislation written by the NRA, and former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush signed the bill. Burglars beware.
Was Montana one of the 24 copycat states that passed Stand Your Ground laws? Bet your boots it was.
The SYG legislation allowed a homeowner to shoot anyone he THOUGHT might hurt him. No need to stay in the house or try to avoid conflict. GUN THE FOOL DOWN!
Mother Jones reports this update: 6/11/12: A new study from Texas A&M University found that SYG laws result in no crime deterrence — while adding 500 to 700 homicides per year nationally across the 25 states with the laws. Mother Jones lists dozens of cases where shooters shot, then walked.
In November 2007, a Houston-area man gunned down two men he suspected of burglarizing his neighbor’s home.
Joe Horn, a 61-year-old retiree, called 911 and urged the operator, “Catch these guys, will you? Cause I ain’t going to let them go.”
He didn’t. He killed both, citing a 2-month-old Texas Stand Your Ground law that he believed gave him the right to use deadly force without retreating or seeking cover.
He was apparently right. He was never charged.
In Louisiana 21-year-old Byron Thomas was allegedly buying dope from a SUV full of teenagers. When the drug buy went bad, Thomas shot into the vehicle, killing a 15-year-old.
Although the SUV was allegedly driving away when Thomas opened fire, the sheriff told local media that as far as Thomas knew, someone could have jumped out of the vehicle with a gun. The sheriff said Thomas had “decided to stand his ground.”
Right! Or maybe he thought someone might run home and fetch a big brother with a .45 magnum.
Shooters in these cases are usually expected to act like reasonable persons. A reasonable person would not stick his head into a van loaded with drug users and drug dealers - a class that feels naked when not packing heat.
In Wisconsin, someone shouted, “Police!” and an unarmed 20-year-old staggered away from an underage drinking party. He was found perched on a porch by the homeowner next door. The homeowner shot the tipsy 20-year-old dead. The county attorney blessed the event, declining to charge the shooter with anything.
An armed motorist shot and killed a pedestrian who walked in front of his car just as he pulled up to the delivery window of a Taco Bell drive-through in Arizona. The shooter claimed the pedestrian had waved his arm, wielding a pipe. It was actually a dog leash.
The pedestrian was mentally retarded. After the shooting he was only dead.